Tag Archives: feminism

There I Go Again, Thinking I Have a Basic Right to Exist in Society

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There is a shockingly large contingent of Americans who believe that trans women should not have access to women-only spaces like bathrooms, locker rooms, shelters, prisons, women’s centers, lesbian spaces, festivals, etc. I will call this contingent the Birthers, because they usually say things like only females who had “female” checked off on their original birth certificate can have access to women-only spaces, which would prevent trans women from using the bathroom they feel in their best judgment is most appropriate for them.

Ironically, Birthers usually place a very high value on the idea of freedom yet deny trans women the freedom to be themselves. Birthers are gatekeepers, they want to restrict access to life-saving medical treatment such as puberty blockers, hormone replacement surgery, and surgical treatments. They want to absolutely reduce the numbers of children and adults transitioning, socially or medically. For these people, the only acceptable solution to the “trans problem” is a form of conversation therapy, an attempt to mind fuck trans people into submitting to the fate of their non-consensual birth assignment. The fundamental goal of the Birthers is to eradicate the desire for transition, the possibility of transition, and the pragmatics of transition. Part of the strategy for inflicting this on trans people is by  using propaganda to overly emphasize how gender and thus appropriate social access to gendered facilities is determined by your so-called “innate biological essence”. This is often described by Birthers as a “fact” or “reality” that trans people are somehow “delusional” about. But trans people are not delusional. The difference between the body dysmorphic person and the gender dysphoric person is that the dysmorphic person misperceives the nature of their own body, giving it physical properties that don’t exist. The gender dysphoric person, in contrast, knows full well the reality of their body, that knowledge is usually the basis for medically transitioning and a source of the dysphoria itself.

The Birthers are so quick to point to “middle school biology” to solidify their argument but as Dan Dennett once wisely said “There is no such thing as philosophy-free science – there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.” The question of whether gender is different from sex is not a question that can be answered purely with science – it is a deeply philosophical question resting on complex questions of personal identity and gender as a performative, socially-embedded, experiential and subjective phenomenom. As Simone de Beauvoir famously said, “One is not born, but rather, becomes a woman.”

Upwards of 60% of trans people say they avoid public bathrooms. Without access to public bathroom facilities trans people are actually at risk of damaging their bladders by being compelled to hold their bladders for too long for fear of using either the men’s room or the women’s room.  Either option presents real dangers and for many trans people the reality is that they don’t use public restrooms at all. If they walk out of a movie, rather than waiting in line, they might just hold it until they get home. This is just one basic illustration of the way in which Birthers want to see trans folks eradicated from society. They want us to accept our birth assignments as absolute biological destiny and would, if possible, totally restrict the small little daily freedoms that allow trans people to exist in a public society of citizens.

But here’s the problem: Birthers will never understand the trans experience. They are not trans and have no concept of what it really means to have an incongruity with your gender. They can’t even fathom it. And if they do attempt to get their heads around it, they often just deny that its fundamental basis is true and go on to insist that the morphological shape of genitals we had as babies determines entirely and forever the very complicated phenomenon of our genders and how we fit into society. Talk about reductionist. Talk about rigid, stale, conservative, anti-freedom, anti-justice. They have no appreciation of the arguments in favor of thinking that gender can come apart from physiological properties. Ironically, most Birthers think that consciousness and the soul can come apart from biology but not gender for some reason, though gender is of course both a deeply social and deeply subjective phenomenon.

The Birthers are fundamentally just hypocrites hiding behind the social force of tradition. They value religious liberty, but not the liberty of trans people to make decisions about their healthcare, or about which bathroom they should use. Birthers justify this restriction of freedom by referencing the hypothetical possibility that a male person could abuse this freedom in order to harm girls and women. But it’s not like there’s a lock on the bathroom door. A cis male can walk in at anytime and there is no magic barrier blocking him from entering the bathroom and assaulting a woman or girl.

Bathroom bills are terrible solutions to a nonexistent problem. There might be a handful of problematic cases existing out there somewhere. With a population of 7.1 billion humans, with trans people accounting for, very roughly ~1 of the population, that makes 71 million trans people across the globe. Out of 71 million trans people it seems statistically likely for there to be at least *some* bad apples. But let me emphasize there is no empirical evidence showing trans women commit crimes at a higher rate than cis women. I repeat. No evidence. All there is is that one misinterpreted Swedish study but the author of the study said herself that nothing about the study suggests that your average trans woman who has transitioned circa 2017 is at any greater risk of being a criminal.

Bathroom bills are not created from the data. They are created from the ideological premise that, as Janice Raymond, the famous “radical feminist” who wrote that trans women are all rapists said, transgenderism must be morally mandated out of existence. Notice how this fits in line with many religious organizations such as the Roman Catholic church, who have said that trans people represent a grave threat to the moral order of society as dictated by the natural law of God. When your feminism aligns perfectly with what the Pope says about trans people being akin to “nuclear weapons” – then I think you need to reconsider your feminism.

Trans people have inalienable rights. We have a right to exist in society how we see fit according to our deepest vision of how we want our lives to go so long as we respect the autonomy of other people as well and think about the happiness of others.

 

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Filed under Gender studies, Trans life, Trans studies, Uncategorized

Hyper-vigilance in the Gender Machine: What It’s Like to Be a Trans Woman Who Doesn’t Pass 100%

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Did that customer just “sir” me?

When he said “Thanks man” would he have said that to a cis female or was that just for me?

Did that person just say “dude” to me in a gender neutral way or not?

Is my co-worker going to use the right pronoun for me at the end of this sentence? Is there any hesitation in their usage of “she” pronouns for me or is it natural, automatic?

Did that customer just include me in their reference to “ladies?” *internal leap of joy*

Pronouns are the primary fuel of the gender machine. The gender machine is the whole apparatus of gender, the constant way in which life on Earth is filtered through the lens of whether you are a man, a woman, or something else. The gender machine is omnipresent, though if you aren’t paying attention it can seem like it doesn’t exist at all. The gender machine is brutal and impersonal: you are subject to it regardless of whether you want to be or not. The gender machine is deeply metaphorical: it provides the foundation for our entire understanding of culture, pop culture, songs, movies, etc.

Before I transitioned, I only had a passing familiarity with the gender machine. I knew it existed, of course, and was obviously a product of it and regulated by it, but I didn’t really know it. I never paid much attention with occasional exceptions: being read as a male with long hair and ear piercings was sometimes interesting. Getting punished by my parents as a young child for wearing women’s clothes certainly made me aware of the gender machine and the rules of what boys are “supposed” to be like. My relationships with women exposed me to the gender machine a little bit. Being a husband made me self-conscious of my role within the gender system.  I had read a bit of gender theory here and there but didn’t really understand the gender machine on a super personal level. I was like the proverbial fish who lives and breathes water but doesn’t has a concept of water because it surrounds them 24/7.

But nothing prepared me for what it’s like to be a wrinkle in the gender machine, a nail that sticks out, an anomaly, a person who was first assigned male, raised male, and regulated as male but who eventually pushed back and bucked the system, who self-consciously rejected their position in the gender machine and chose another path, the path towards womanhood.

But violations in the gender machine are highly regulated by misgendering, transphobia, and enforcement of gender conformity. If you don’t look and sound “like a woman” then the gender machine will refuse to play along and you will get hurt. You will get “sirred”. You will get nasty stares as you walk out of the bathroom. You will be harassed, threatened, or maybe even violently assaulted or killed. The gender machine will attempt to chew you up and spit you out. You will be called “freak” and seen as less than human. You will be called slurs. You will be slandered as a pervert. Your sanity will be called into question. The gender machine has it especially out for nonpassing trans women and non-binary trans femmes due to the way masculinity and femininity is strongly regulated for those who are assigned male at birth. Any hint of a assigned-male person dabbling in femininity is brutally regulated so much so that trans women repress their desires for decades, or even repress them forever.

Does my adam’s apple stick out too much at this angle? I worry about this as I stand at the counter and adjust how I’m standing so the customer won’t see it right away. I maximally “prime” them with my available gender cues, minimize the cues I want to hide, and slightly adjust the way I’m standing and holding my head to hide my adam’s apple. But I know they’ll eventually see it. They always do. That or my voice will reveal my history of being exposed to testosterone. What will they think of me? Not how will they treat me. Most people are nice. But how will they internally think of me? “Oh, there’s one of those ugly trannies. Freak.” Or worse. My paranoia about this runs deep. It affects my relationships with people I don’t know extremely well. Many TERFs these days are hardcore TERFs but keep their opinions to themselves. That’s almost worse. The fake smile. The deference with the pronouns, but secretly thinking “You’re a man.”

“Hi, what can I get started for you today?”, I speak over the intercom in a strained voice, desperately doing all I can to avoid the inevitable “Sir”. Often I don’t get it. But sometimes I do. I wonder if I would get misgendered more if we lived in a time when the gender machine regulated gendered communication and encouraged “sirs” and “ma’ams” at all times. Nowadays, thank God, people more lax on the honorifics. I personally try to never use them unless absolutely necessary. What’s the point? They do practically no good and often cause much harm to trans and gender-nonconforming people. My voice is the Ur-factor in how I am perceived within the gender machine. It determines everything. Unfortunately, I know my voice is not perfect and still gets read as male to those unsuspecting strangers who might expect something else out of my mouth based on my appearance or dress.

I wake up super early for work to placate the gender machine with makeup. I know many cis women across the world are pressured by the gender machine to wear makeup to work in order to be seen as “professioanal”, “hygienic”, or even “competent”, but I am pressured into waking up extra early to shower, shave, and put on makeup in order to maximize my available gender cues, minimize the negative ones, and ultimately reduce my chance of getting misgendered, avoiding dysphoria as much as possible. With my voice and my adam’s apple and my masculine features, makeup is a defense mechanism for me, a way to reinforce the gender cues I give off. But what I’d give to have the option to just wear a bare face but still be so effortlessly feminine that no one in their right mind would question my status in the gender machine.

Whether I eventually get misgendered or not depends on many factors, mainly to what extent these people are self-conscious regulators in the gender machine aka transphobic assholes. But it’s also ignorance. And not paying attention. But still. Regardless, the most common thing that happens is that people don’t gender me at all. I get greeted as female all the time but rarely depart as an acknowledged female. When others around me get pronouns, I often get none. Which isn’t too bad I guess. Could be worse.

My coworkers, or “partners” as we call them at Starbucks, are my literal life blood. Their acceptance of me as a woman and their automatic usage of “she” pronouns are my primary coping mechanism for dysphoria and misgendering at work. The small little genderings that happen through the day literally sustain me. It means so little to them, yet so much to me.

Life as a non-passing trans woman for me means constant vigilance within the gender machine. Professional pronoun detector should be written on my business card. Constant awareness of all things gender defines my worldview. When I am hanging out with cis males, I can’t help but notice their masculinity and define myself as apart from them, down to tiny little mannerisms like the small inflection they put on the end of a word, or how much space they are taking up. When I am around cis females, I can’t help but compare myself to them and get self-conscious about every little feminine detail that comes so naturally to them. Even hanging out with butch lesbians does little to make me feel better because even they are so dripping with womanhood that I can’t help but feel “less”. Such is life as a non-passing, late transitioning trans woman.

The gender machine is fueled by pronouns, and regulated by conformity. It is all around us. Even in today’s post-modern liberal society of increasing LGBTQIA diversity awareness, the gender machine is working harder than ever to regulate gender. It might seem like we are now living in a laissez faire world when it comes to gender, but don’t let surface trends fool you: The growing acceptance of trans and GNC people in society has done absolutely nothing to placate the gender machine. It is still hungry – it still needs to feed. It simply finds a new tactic, a new way of regulating gender, new rules, regulations, associations, connotations, expectations, etc.

Gender is still all pervasive, as any trans or observant person will tell you. Some gender theorists like to talk about a future, hypothetical society where the gender machine is no more. But that’s a thought experiment only. A fantasy. A utopia that will never come to be. All we can do is force the gender machine to evolve in small, hopefully progressive directions. But despite the gender machine’s dominance and finality being out of our control, we can as individuals take self-conscious steps towards understanding our place within the gender machine and working to make sure everyone feels safe as they can be within the machine. Respecting pronouns and reducing the usage of honerifics is a huge part of this and definitely something cis allies can do. Good luck.

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Filed under feminism, Gender studies, My life, Trans life

Are Pussy Hats Inherently Transphobic?

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First off, disclaimer: I didn’t actually attend the local Women’s March, so read what I have to say with a grain of salt.

With that said, I want to comment on the current controversy about whether the cornucopia of pussy-themed images at the Women’s March is inherently transphobic.

The first thing I want to say is that the mere mention of vagina and female anatomy is not inherently transphobic. It is perfectly fine if a cis woman or AFAB person (or post-op trans woman) wants to talk about their anatomy in the context of furthering reproductive rights, such as the right to a safe abortion or access to birth control or in the general context of bodily autonomy and female empowerment. When the Republicans are dead-set on attacking these reproductive rights it is perfectly ok for vagina-owners to talk about their vaginas, pregnancy, rape, and anything else relevant to reproductive health or any other issue facing vagina-owners.

Furthermore, we need to place the pussy images in the proper context, which is Trump’s comments about grabbing women’s pussies. I don’t believe it is inherently transphobic for vagina owners to use pussy imagery to respond to Trump’s misogynistic comments that centered around grabbing AFAB anatomy. Take, for example, the following sign:

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I don’t believe this sign is inherently transphobic because it’s dealing with the GOP obsession with restricting the reproductive rights of people capable of getting pregnant. Furthermore, nothing about this sign indicates that only women have vaginas or that women are defined by their genitalia are that vaginas are the Ur-symbol to represent the Women’s Rights movement, femininity, or feminism in general. So we have set an example in which it is possible to use vagina imagery in a way that is not transphobic. In contrast, let’s look at this other sign:

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This sign is much more problematic than the previous sign. It is obviously a play on “we the people”. In my opinion, the underlying implication of the sign is that the “we” is referring to all women who are fighting back against Trump and the republicans. The problem is that not all women fighting back have pussies. The picture is clearly trying to make a general statement about feminism and the Women’s Rights movement and it is not explicitly focused on the GOP obsession with taking away reproductive rights from vagina-owners. This image is arguably transphobic because it ignores the way in which non-pussy owners are just as much part of the “we” which is fighting for body autonomy and Women’s Rights. This sign is problematic in the same way the next sign is:

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“Pussy power” with a female symbol next to it. The underlying implication is that female = pussy and pussy = female and that the power to fight the GOP lies only with pussy-owners. This is transphobic because not all females have pussies. Furthermore, the underlying context of the sign is supposed to represent the power of women to protest Trump and fight back against the Republicans who are taking away women’s rights. But obviously not all the women who have the collective feminine power to fight back have pussies.

However, there is nothing wrong with taking pride in having a pussy, or thinking that pussies are powerful, or in trying to organize with people who also have pussies. But why exclude trans women from the symbolic image of those with the female power to fight Trump and the GOP? Trans women are incredibly powerful fighters. We have so much power to contribute to the fight. Furthermore, trans women are female. We have just as much claim to the female symbol as pussy owners. By associating the female symbol with pussies this works to alienate trans women from the collective female fight against Trump and the GOP.

In conclusion, pussy hats and pussy imagery are not inherently transphobic. Wearing a pussy hat is not inherently transphobic. But the context certainly matters. The nuance of language certainly matters. There are non-transphobic and transphobic ways to use pussy imagery to represent the fight for Women’s Rights. If feminism is going to work in the 21st century it needs to do better to be inclusive of trans women. This is not to say that everything has to be about trans women or that people should give up on using vagina-based imagery altogether. The pussy is still a powerful symbol because the vast majority of women have vaginas and conservatives have traditionally focused on controlling pussies. But the fight for bodily autonomy is a fight that is equally shared with trans women and trans women are powerful allies that feminism excludes at the risk of losing amazingly powerful allies. We can do better.

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Filed under feminism, Gender studies, Trans studies

Yes In Fact You Are a TERF

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“Gender critical” blogger Purple Sage recently wrote a post about the term “TERF”. In essence Sage argues that the term “TERF” is over-used by angry trans activists and that moreover “everyone is a TERF” because all it takes to be a TERF is to piss off a trans activist by, e.g., mentioning the fact that cis females can get pregnant. Let’s take this from the top folks cuz I’m gonna break down everything that’s wrong with her poorly reasoned post.

First of all, nobody is actually a TERF. This is not actually a descriptive acronym, it’s a slur. The way it is used in speech is the same way people use bitch, whore, cunt, or feminazi.

TERF is not a slur in and of itself in the same way f*ggot and n*gger are. The f-word and the n-word are paradigmatic examples of slurs. There is NO way to use those words without causing some kind of tacit harm. That’s what makes them slurs. But TERF is an acronym. It breaks down to Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. None of those words in and of themselves is a slur because they can all be used in non-inflammatory sentences. The same cannot be said of “whore” and “cunt” – if these words remain in sentences the sentence becomes inflammatory in virtue of the decision to not use less inflammatory versions like “sex worker” or “vagina”. Obviously “trans” is not a slur. Nor is a slur to call someone “exclusionary”. Nor is it a slur to call someone radical or to call them a feminist. So when you break down the meaning of TERF it becomes possible to use the term TERM in a non inflammatory manner to describe those people who identify as feminists with a “radical” bent who want to exclude trans women from the category of women and trans men from the category of men. Furthermore, the term “TERF” itself was coined not by trans people but by cis feminists. It was started as a neutral term. The same cannot be said of REAL slurs like the f-word or the n-word.

Nobody identifies as a TERF and this isn’t an accurate description of anyone’s politics

This is totally false. Just because “gender critical” folks themselves don’t like the term TERF that doesn’t mean it’s not an accurate description of people’s politics. The term means “trans exclusionary radical feminist”. It basically means anyone who thinks that trans women are *really* deep down just men and trans men are *really* deep down just women. This perspective is almost universally shared by people in “gender critical” circles and thus it becomes a highly convenient tool for trans people to have a widely recognized term that describes “gender critical” politics.

I don’t actually “exclude” trans people though. I read the words of trans people, I watch their videos, I talk with them, they comment on my blog, and I have not excluded any trans people from anything in real life.

This is a hilariously bad interpretation of what the “exclusionary” element of TERF actually means. It doesn’t mean exclude trans people from your social circle, or exclude trans people from your youtube watchlist. It means exclude trans women from the category of women and exclude trans men from the category of men. “Gender critical” people believe that only assigned female at birth people are REAL women and trans women are just men/males. This is what TERF means. It means excluding trans people from the gender they identify with. Just because you talk with trans people and put on an air of politeness does not excuse you from being a TERF. It’s not about your actions – it’s about what you believe. If you don’t think trans women are women, then you’re a TERF plain and simple.

There is a second meaning behind the term “exclusionary” which has to do with things like excluding trans women from the women’s restroom and other “women only spaces”. I have not read Purple Sage’s entire blog so I am not familiar with their views on bathroom politics but if they toe the “gender critical” line then I almost guarantee they would argue that trans women should not be allowed in women only spaces. That is exclusionary. You are excluding trans women from the spaces that only women are allowed to go to. Another example is the Michigan Women’s Festival, a classic case of cis females excluding trans women because they believe that trans women are not women.

You’re a TERF if you know that women menstruate, you’re a TERF if you understand how babies are made, you’re a TERF if you know that lesbians aren’t interested in dick, you’re a TERF if you even say the words “female” or “biology.” Since reality itself is transphobic, everyone who understands reality is a TERF.

This is total bullshit – classic strawman argument meant to make trans people look deranged. I don’t know a single trans woman who thinks it’s transphobic in and of itself to talk about pregnancy or cis female biology. What’s transphobic is to say that only women can get pregnant because that erases trans men.

Furthermore, Sage is just confused on this point. She is confusing the idea that talk of pregnancy can trigger people’s dysphoria with the idea that talk of pregnancy is inherently transphobic. Yes it’s true that some trans women have their dysphoria triggered by discussion of cis female biology. But that’s not the same as saying such discussion is inherently transphobic. What would be transphobic is to say that just because trans women can’t get pregnant they aren’t “real” women. Or it’s transphobic to try and reduce the entirety of the concept “woman” to the biological characteristics typical of cis females because that essentially begs the question. But discussion of biology or the differences between AMAB and AFAB bodies is not inherently transphobic. Cis females and trans women have different biological properties. That is a fact. I don’t know anyone who would deny that fact. Nor do I know anyone who considers the recognition of that fact to be transphobic.

And as a matter of fact, some lesbians do in fact like dick. My ex-fiancee was a classic “goldstar lesbian” before she met me but she loved my dick. It’s simply not true that all lesbians/queer people are not interested in dick. To think otherwise is to be very ignorant of the lived reality of cis female self-identified lesbians who date preop/nonop trans women. And if it’s not just ignorance it’s outright erasure.

All humans the world over know the difference between male and female, so all of us are TERFs.

I am very skeptical that “all” humans are aware of the hidden complexities in trying to define how many sexes there are or what constitutes male or female biology when the existence of intersex conditions complicates the simplistic binary narrative believed in the Western world. Expert biologists who actually know what they are talking about are coming to a consensus that biological sex is a spectrum and cannot be so easily cleaved into two and only two utterly distinct categories.

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Filed under feminism, Gender studies, Trans studies

Are Trans People Easily Offended?

Trans people have a reputation for being fierce social justice advocates to the point where there exists a stereotype of an “angry” trans person, especially an “angry” or “crazy” trans woman who takes offense at the slightest thing. For example, trans people are very nitpicky about language. If a news article describes a trans woman as being “born a boy” trans people are quick to point out the proper terminology is “assigned male at birth”. Examples like this can be multiplied. The point is that trans people often get offended over what cis people deem to be relatively “trivial” things particularly with respect to linguistic decisions.

A few things. First, every trans person is different. Some might not care about slight linguistic choices. Others care a lot. Second, it’s not up to cis people to determine what’s offensive or not. If a trans person takes offense at something a cis person deems as “minor” it is probably the case that the cis person fails to put themselves into the shoes of the trans person who is being hurt/offended.

A good example of this is misgendering. It’s really difficult for cis people to understand how much it hurts to be misgendered. Cis people might just say “get over it” or “it was just an innocent mistake” or “I am trying”. But to the trans person, these small acts are deeply personal. The wrong pronoun really stings. Or getting deadnamed. And perhaps the cis people making the mistake are not directly at fault for such slip-ups, but instead of being defensive they should be open to the idea that their slip-ups can really hurt.

Furthermore, I would say that trans people often have a good vantage point to see where some things deemed “minor” are actually the effect of a deeply transphobic society. Most cis people cannot see transphobia or cis-sexism because they are so steeped in it – like the old joke about fish not knowing what water is. When society has unconsciously made trans women the butt of jokes everywhere it’s easy to just say “oh those trannies are getting huffy about an innocent joke again” or “can’t you take a joke”? Another example is the t-word “tranny”. Trans people are allowed to reclaim this word but cis people have no right to it. Yet cis people feel it should be theirs to use, especially cis gay men like Ru Paul who feel his drag world credentials make it permissible to use the t-slur. Ru Paul has no right to that word for the same reason white people have no right to the n-word.

Words have power. Cis people need to understand that the words we use reflect our underlying metaphysical assumptions. Saying a trans woman was “born a boy” instead of “assigned male” helps reinforce the idea that a trans woman is “really” a boy who grew up to play dress up. By stepping up and calling out problematic linguistic usage trans people are desperately trying to re-take language for themselves, for language to be inclusive and validating. This is why we are often such fierce protectors of the language the trans community has developed over decades. Battles over language are important because it’s one of the few tools we have to combat rampant cis-sexism. By educating cis people about the importance of language we can hope to make this society more accepting of our existence as trans people.

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Introspective Non-binary Identity vs Political-pragmatic Binary Identity

There are two broad types of trans people: binary and non-binary. Binary trans folks identify as either 100% women or men whereas non-binary folks identify as neither 100% men or women, both, or identify as agender, lacking any association with gender altogether (this is my best definition of non-binary off the top of my head though I’m sure someone could nitpick on whether it’s the best definition). But in a nutshell non-binary folks identify as outside of the traditional male-female gender binary whereas binary folks identify within the traditional male-female binary.

Most people would probably think I am a binary trans woman. I often refer to myself as a trans woman in casual discourse. I present in a fairly traditional femme way. I love makeup, etc. But I want to make a distinction between introspective identity vs political-pragmatic identity. Introspective identity is the identify revealed to you through careful and deep introspection on your gendered feelings i.e. what is the gender you feel yourself to be upon reflecting deeply on your gender? In contrast, political-pragmatic identidy is the gender identity you adopt in order to face the world at large, either politically or pragmatically.

My introspective identity is non-binary. I identity technically as non-binary femme. What I really am is just a femme person. When I really reflect deeply on my gender I don’t think I’m a man or a woman: I am a third option: a trans femme person. I’m trans insofar as my gender is different from what I was assigned at birth and I’m femme insofar as that is my gender expression. But politically I identify as a trans woman in order to join in solidarity with all women-identified people who are fighting patriarchical oppression. Pragmatically, it’s just easier to identity as a binary trans woman. Non-binary identities are harder to understand for the average cis person and I don’t always want to get into a complicated discussion about gender and identity.

Some trans people might think I’m trying to have my cake and eat it too. Or that I am somehow being a bad representative of the trans community. Binary trans women might think I’m not “trans enough”. Non-binary people might think I’m appropriating their identity. But I really don’t think it’s that complicated. We all have a front we put on for others. We have fractured identities – presenting one way in front of family and another in front of friends and another in front of our romantic partners. My trans identity is similarly fractured. There is the “technical” definition of my gender and the “loose” definition of my gender. I don’t see why I need to present the technical definition in ALL situations. Sometimes it’s just easier to say “Yeah I identify as a woman”. I don’t feel conflicted when I use the woman’s restroom. And politically I don’t feel conflicted feeling myself included in the category of woman especially since this identification will help normalize the inclusion of trans women into the category of woman.

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Dysphoria as a Symptom of Modernity

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Dysphoria is everywhere we look in American society. Take for example the toxic beauty culture of the media promoting images of beautiful models representing unattainable beauty ideals. There are many young women wishing they were skinnier, with bigger breasts, and the right size ass. I would imagine many if not most girls and women in America wish they could change something about their bodies or appearance. Men and boys as well. We live in a fix-it society exemplified in reality tv shows depicting “ugly” people getting a smorgasbord of cosmetic surgeries and then showing the dramatic “before and after” reveal. The plastic surgery industry is a multi-billion growth bonanza – with surgeons making big bucks by not having to deal with insurance – straight up cash please.  But dysphoria is at the core of this phenomenon, a cultural dysphoria we have all internalized due to our exposure to unattainable beauty ideals and constant exposure to the digital altered world where a thick instagram filter hides our imperfections.

There are many flavors and varieties of dysphoria – and it is not just a transgender thing either. It literally just means discomfort about some aspect of your physical body. But dysphoria is probably more associated these days with gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria is a special kind of dysphoria that is felt when one is uncomfortable in your body because it either makes you feel like the wrong gender or makes you socially perceived as the wrong gender. Gender dysphoria has been a known phenomenon for decades. Many kinds of treatment are available to gender dysphoric people. Therapy. Hormones. Surgeries. These have all been shown effective life-affirming and life-saving treatments. I wouldn’t necessarily argue these treatments should be seen as “medical” in any way, like fixing a broken truck. They affirm gender. They relieve that pain of looking in the mirror and not seeing yourself as the right gender. People who have never experienced it generally have little ability to know what it’s like. But I don’t want to buy into any system of thought that sees all trans people as these broken creatures in need of fixing with the doctor’s help. Some trans people might think they are broken but I don’t want to generalize to ALL trans people.

Why is dysphoria a symptom of modern society? It’s because dysphoria is a symptom of the hyper-sexualizing/beauty obsessed modern media machine that is Hollywood and American media at large, either in video games or magazines, to the models we see on the walls of every department store. It’s everywhere. When you see perfection everyday it’s hard to not feel like well if I had the money to spare maybe I really would like to have perfect teeth, or bigger breasts, or less wrinkles in my face, or a flat stomach. I would look younger, better, newer, improved.

Non-trans dysphoria feels like a tempting analogy with trans women who get “facial feminization surgery” which is essentially just cosmetic surgery with the intent of reducing masculine features and emphasizing feminine features.  The analogy is that the dysphoria of a cis woman wanting plastic surgery to look presumably more feminine and beautiful is like that of a trans woman wanting plastic surgery to look more feminine. Metaphyscially they seem to be very similar.

But we must be careful with this analogy. Very careful. Because we can make a distinction between healthy and non-healthy kinds of dysphoria, strange as that sounds. What kind of dysphoria would be healthy? First and foremost the kind that can be treated. If the underlying cause is gender based then there are proven treatments that often lead to easing the burden of gender dysphoria, though it might be present at low background levels or intermittent bursts. Second, in cultures that have a recognized social role for gender expansive people the kind of dysphoria present in those populations is not necessarily unhealthy so long as society at large approves transition and has the mechanisms in place to ensure a healthy transition.

On the other hand, the kind of dysphoria that stems from trying to live up to the beauty ideals in media and culture is a lot harder to treat because it’s based on a flawed ideology, an ideology of the body. Of what the body is supposed to be. This is also the root of cis-normativity as well. This kind of dysphoria is hard to treat with technology because the problem actually lies in the culture at large not necessarily in the individual. The media machine that spreads unattainable beauty ideals into every aspect of society is unstoppable and getting worse as our appetite as consumers grows larger. I don’t see it going away anytime soon. This affects everyone but especially young women.

But men have their own unique kind of dysphoria surrounding things like balding and muscles. They see physically perfect super men in Marvel movies and feel inspired to get a super hero body but few ever get to that level, just like most women don’t look like Kim K.

But I think it is these media-driven kinds of dysphoria that are unhealthy and thus different from the healthiness of gender dysphoria, which is rooted in concept- gender – that is absolutely fundamental to our essence as people whereas the beauty ideals of society are not core essential features – we can do without them thank you very much.

Last, and this is important, I don’t want this post to indicate that I mean to judge any particular person for getting cosmetic surgery. I support the autonomy of rational people to make decisions about their bodies as they see fit. And who am I to judge. But surely there are some cosmetic surgeries that cannot be described as healthy. People get talked into more work being done by overly enthusiastic surgeons during consultation.

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Filed under Beauty culture, feminism, Gender studies, Trans studies, Uncategorized